Episode Title: "Winter Is Coming"
Writes: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Tim Van Patten
On the fantasy world of Westros, several factions vie for control of the Iron Throne in what has become known as the game of thrones. In this game the only rule is to win or die. And even victory isn't always enough to guarantee survival…
Near the northern borders of Westros, three members of the Night's Watch discover strange activities in the woods. The youngest spots intricately arranged bodies in the snow, but his superior office practically laughs off his fears. However, the dead bodies are revealed to have been part of a trap set by the White Walkers, who use the skin of the dead as a disguise. The two older Night's Watch are slaughtered, with the youngest allowed to survive. Meanwhile, in the northern kingdom Winterfell, Lord Eddard Stark aka Ned (Sean Bean) watches as his youngest son, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) practices his archery.
Bran's older brothers mock his horrible aim and even his younger sister, Arya (Maisie Williams) is a better shot than he is. Out in the wild, the surviving Night's Watch member is captured and accused of deserting his post. When word of his capture reaches Ned, he brings his oldest son Robb (Richard Madden), his bastard son, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Bran as witnesses. Because the Night's Watch left his post, the sentence is death. But before Ned dispatches him, he speaks incoherently about the return of the White Walkers. On their way back to the kingdom, Ned and his sons encounter a dead Direwolf with her five still living cubs.
Although one of Ned's son's suggests killing the cubs so they won't suffer without their mother, Jon argues that the wolf's appearance is an omen indicating that the five cubs were meant to be raised by Ned's five legitimate children. When a sixth cub with white fur is found, it is given to Jon as a mocking gift by his brothers, save for Bran. Some time later, Ned's wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) receives word that her brother-in-law, Jon Arryn (John Standing) has died, while King Robert (Mark Addy) has begun a long journey to Winterfell to ask Ned to take Jon's place as the new King's Hand.
A month later, Winterfell welcomes King Robert, his wife Queen Cersel (Lena Headey), their son Joffrey, Cersel's brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) and their younger brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) the dwarf. As expected, the King wants Ned as his new Hand and he suggests marrying his son to Ned's daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner) to join their two houses. At the feast, Jon is excluded because he is a bastard, but he soon finds a kindred spirit in Tyrion. Meanwhile, Sansa pressures her mother to let her marry Joffrey so that she will become queen some day.
Across the sea, King Robert's enemy Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) plots his overthrow by using his sister, Daeneryes (Emilia Clarke) as a pawn. After incestuously fondling his sister, he arranges for her to be married to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the barbaric Dothraki people. Viseryes ignores his sister's request to not marry Drogo, as Viseryes needs Dorgo's army at his disposal. At the wedding ceremony, Daeneryes is visibly unnerved by the casual sex and murder as part of the proceedings. Her consummation with Drogo is also difficult for her as he doesn't seem to carry about anything other than his own pleasure.
Back in Winterfell, Ned reluctantly agrees to become the King's Hand. However, Catelyn's sister sends another message revealing that her husband, Jon was murdered by the King's enemies. Catelyn warns Ned that if he joins the King, his own life will be at risk. Later, Bran climbs the castle walls to watch the King's entourage depart. He stumbles upon Queen Cersei in the tower having sex with her brother Jamie. In order to protect their affair, Jamie casually throws Bran from the tower, possibly to his death.
My first reaction to "Game of Thrones" is that it's great to see another TV series with ambition. As with most shows on HBO, there's a cinematic look to it and a real sense of scale with some stunning backdrops.
But my second reaction was "what's with all of the incest?" Why exactly are brothers and sisters sleeping together? We only see Cersel and Jamie together (which seems like Sarah Connor and John Amsterdam are having an affair outside of Fox). But the first scene with Viserys feeling up his naked sister was also weird and creepy.
I have to admit that I'm intrigued by the world being presented here even if I don't fully understand it yet. And the possible death of Bran was the right note to go out on as it managed to catch me off guard. Watching Bran climb the walls twice during the episode, the possibility of him falling did pass through my mind. But I didn't think that some a**hole would literally toss him off the wall. That's pretty brutal, but if it acts as a sucker punch to the audience than it did its job.
Sean Bean seems to be getting some flack online for doing another sword and sorcery role after co-starring in the first "Lord of The Rings" movie. But he's quite good in the part of Ned and he seems believable as both a warrior and a father. He's definitely not soft, as his harsh lessons for Bran demonstrate. But he does seem to truly love his wife and children. Except for Jon, I presume. I don't know why being a bastard is such a stigma in this world, but Ned doesn't seem to be doing much to insulate Jon from it.
In fact, Jon is the only one of Ned's children that really resonates simply because he's forced to be outside of Ned's close family circle despite the fact that he is his father's son in almost every way that matters. There's a terrific scene between Jon and Peter Dinklage's Tyrion where they commiserate over their lack of status within their respective families. I don't know if that was a one-off scene between them, but they had an interesting dynamic together. Aside from Bran and Jon, none of Ned's other kids feel like characters who could step into the starring roles.
Jason Momoa's appearance as Khal Drogo also took me by surprise, as I hadn't heard that he was a part of this series. Is there any fantasy that he won't do? After "Conan," I don't know how willing he'd be to keep on doing TV, but he is a very effective barbarian. Momoa even manages to get the most out of his expressions without being able to say anything other than "no" in "the common tongue."
As an opening chapter of a story, "Game of Thrones" is impressive. However, in several instances I'm still mystified about what the series is going to be about. Is Viserys going to be the main villain? Or is it Cersel and Jamie? And who are the White Walkers? There's just not enough information here to make me fully invested right out of the gate.
But I really do want to see more.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.